Western scholars have since the nineteenth century been aware of the influence of foreign languages, particularly of the dialect of Aramaic called Syriac, on the vocabulary of the Qur’ān. Luxenberg assembles all of the pieces of this line of research into a systematic examination of the Arabic of the Qur’ān in order to provide a general solution to its many textual difficulties.The conclusions drawn about the source of the Qur’ān, its transmission history from Muhammad to cUthmān, and its thematic content rest on arguments drawn from evidence collected and examined through the tools of philological and text-critical methods. No part of the method rests on a blind acceptance of religious or traditional assumptions of any kind, especially with respect to the Arabian commentators. Until now, Western critical commentators of the first rank have not been critical enough in this regard and Luxenberg directly and indirectly through his conclusions proves that their trust was betrayed.
Hence any argument that seeks to prove Luxenberg’s findings incorrect cannot assume that the earliest Arabian commentators understood correctly the grammar and lexicon of the Arabic of the Qur’ān. This is an important contribution of the study.
Luxenberg then presents the Islamic tradition about the early transmission history of the Qur’ān. According to that tradition, khalifa cUthmān ibn cAffan (A.D. 644-656) first assembled into a single book the written record of the utterances of Muhammad (A.D. 570-632). The Qur’ān is the first book of the Arabic language of which scholars are aware. It is important because it is the basis for written Arabic, the language of a sophisticated Medieval civilization, and because for Muslims it is the source of all religious expression, theology, and law, and is held to be God’s revelation to Muhammad. For non-Muslims, it is an important literary artifact, and deserves to be studied from a historical as well as a philological perspective.
It is the latter prespective that Luxenberg follows. Western commentators have followed Islamic tradition rather than used the reference tools and techniques of philological investigation. Luxenberg gives a brief description of the findings from important works on Qur’ānic philology in the West. Scholars have been increasingly aware of the presence in the Qur’ān of foreign terms and references to foreign historical events and that Aramaic dialects contributed most of these. However, because Western scholars maintained the technically outdated and unscientific approach of Islamic exegesis, the significance of these findings has had to wait until the present study...
A work of this scope presented piece-meal necessarily lacks the cohesion and elegance of a full study. The implications of this method are nevertheless clear. Any future scientific study of the Qur’ān will necessarily have to take this method into consideration. Even if scholars disagree with the conclusions, the philological method is robust. It has established a discipline that is substantially different from the exegetical traditions of the Arabian and Western commentators. Luxenberg has called into question the view of the Qur’ān as a “pure” text, one free of the theological and philological difficulties that plague the transmission histories of other texts, e.g., the Hebrew Bible and its versions.
A central question that this investigation raises is the motivation of cUthmān in preparing his redaction of the Qur’ān. Luxenberg presents the two hadīth traditions recounting how cUthmān came to possess the first manuscript. If Luxenberg’s analysis is even in broad outline correct, the content of the Qur’ān was substantially different at the time of Muhammad and cUthmān’s redaction played a part in the misreading of key passages.
Were these misreadings intentional or not? The misreadings in general alter the Qur’ān from a book that is more or less harmonious with the New Testament and Syriac Christian liturgy and literature to one that is distinct, of independent origin.
BOOK REVIEW Christoph Luxenberg (ps.) Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ānsprache.